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HB 51 would authorize the Parks and Wildlife Commission to create a vessel monitoring system for the purpose of monitoring commercial oyster boats. This bill would also require the Parks and Wildlife Department to implement an oyster license buyback program for licenses. The commission would be required to develop criteria "for the department's use in selecting licenses to be purchased" and the department would be required to retire the purchased licenses.
Since we originally reported on this bill when it was in the House it has been amended to add additional provisions A violation of a proclamation issued by the Parks and Wildlife Commission would be a Class C misdemeanor A violation of statute or regulation relating to oyster size, if the defendant has been previously convicted, would be a Class B misdemeanor, and each crew member of a vessel would be required to hold a general commercial fisherman's license. Licenses would be suspended for final conviction of certain offenses. Further regulations would be added to the buying and selling of oysters.
There are several liberty-infringing aspects to this legislation. The vessel monitoring system provision is broad and will almost certainly result in onerous state monitoring of private oyster boats. There is no need for the state to micromanage the particulars of a private industry in this way. A boat is not only a place of business it is a home while at sea for the captain and crew. The broad authority to create a vessel monitoring program contains no provisions to protect privacy aboard oyster boats or prevent the state from inhibiting the efficient operation of oyster boats. This kind of broad authority should never be vested in a government commission.
The license buyback program is no less onerous. The first problem is that it is, again, too broad. The bill stipulates that the commission shall develop criteria for determining which licenses to buy back but contains no protection to ensure that the department does not decide to force an unwilling seller to give up his license. There is also no provision to require that licenses be purchased at fair market value. Furthermore, a license buyback program by design further limits the number of licenses in an already limited-entry profession. This has the effect of driving up the value of the few remaining licenses, thereby picking winners and losers in the marketplace.
It is not the responsibility of the state to make oyster harvesting more profitable for the few remaining oyster boats by buying out the competition. This kind of economic intervention is not the proper role of the state. If the oyster population is in trouble, the state can regulate harvest limits and seasons in order to encourage the development of a healthy oyster population. Beyond that, the state should not regulate the day to day aspects of the industry.
Finally, House amendments adding new criminal penalties, license suspension, and regulations on buying and selling oysters all grow the size and scope of government.
For these reasons, we oppose HB 51.